Why it’s drawn the way it is

The Warren County School District’s three-region model for the election of school board members has been in place since 2002.

That was when the Warren County Court of Common Pleas chose between two competing proposals – one submitted by a group of citizens — that advocated for the system we have in place today, and another put forward by the school district – a proposal that advocated for all nine members of the board to be elected at-large.

The opinion and corresponding order provide interesting insight into the merits of both proposals.

The school code permits “electors equal to at least twenty-five per centum of the highest vote cast for any school director in the last municipal election (to) develop a plan to elect school directors from regions or to elect some school directors from regions and some from the school district at large.”

The code further requires that the “boundaries of the regions shall be fixed and established in such a manner that the population of each region shall be as nearly equal as possible and shall be compatible with the boundaries of election districts.”

Prior to the 2002 implementation, the previous model – three regions with different boundaries – had been in existence since the school district was formed in the 1960s.

The court ruled that both proposals met the criteria established in the statute.

The school district asserted three primary benefits to an entirely “at-large” election model: Interest would be focused on the best interest of all students “and cause its decision making to be for the benefit of all,” allow the “election of the best available board members by a majority of the voters within the school district” and would “end the divisive nature of regional representation….”

Testimony entered in support of that proposal spoke about the need for Warren County to function as one community and alleged that “some school directors have given in to denial of impending problems, while others have reacted with open rancor at times…. It is altogether too easy for directors to develop a narrow, parochial perspective, being only interested in issues affecting or benefiting their own regions or neighborhoods to the detriment of the other area.”

Those testifying in support of the regional model claimed that “we all want a good education for our kids” but alleged that “the interests throughout the county are different.”

Another commented that “this county is a large county and we’re different people. People from the city are different from people in the outlying areas. We have different concerns and different ways we feel that education is better and you need somebody who knows that, who understands that feeling.”

The size of the district was asserted as a challenge to an all at-large model.

The designer of the citizen proposal said: “We wanted to correct the inequities of the existing system. We wanted to maintain our local representation and closely align with the schools, because that’s generally where we found, or in our opinion where the people of like minds were at.”

The presiding judge, Paul H. Millin, questioned in his opinion whether removing regional divisiveness is “a proper function of the design of an electoral system for school directors or should the electoral system assure representation of as many existing diverse interests as possible?

“While it may be frustrating to those attempting to build consensus that all of the varying viewpoints have to be heard and to some extent accommodated, that is part of the genius of our representative democracy.”

In siding with the citizens’ proposal, Judge Millin questioned whether at-large elections would bring the best candidates forward, asking whether qualified candidates would run a county-wide election for a non-paying position. Further, he questioned whether a county-wide system would lead to “special interest money and influence.

“The citizens’ petition meets the criteria of one man/one vote by achieving as close as possible population equality; it assures representation to some degree of ‘regional interests;’ it represents only a minor change to the existing manner of elections and assures that no one electoral district or interest area can control the majority of the board to the detriment of all others and therefore the Court finds the citizens’ proposal for regional representation is in the best interest of the students of the Warren County School District.”